Father John's Medicine

Father John's Medicine

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Usage conditions apply
The indications or uses for this product as provided by the manufacturer are: A nutritive tonic and a wholesome medicine. Recommended for relief of coughs due to colds and throat irritation resulting from colds by its soothing effect on the throat.
Currently not on view
Object Name
otc preparation
Other Terms
Patent Medicines; Drugs; Liquid
Date made
ca 1960
Father John's Medicine Company
Place Made
United States: Massachusetts, Lowell
Physical Description
cod liver oil (drug active ingredients)
gum arabic (drug active ingredients)
glycerin (drug active ingredients)
box: 9 1/4 in x 3 in x 1 3/4 in; 23.495 cm x 7.62 cm x 4.445 cm
bottle: 9 in x 2 7/8 in x 1 5/8 in; 22.86 cm x 7.3025 cm x 4.1275 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Gary P. and Sandra Baden
Tonics, Minerals & Vitamins
Catarrh, Cough & Cold Drugs
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Medicine
Health & Medicine
Balm of America
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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I grew up in Lowell in the 60's-70's. My mother made sure I had a heaping tablespoon every morning. I loved the taste and kept the spoon in my mouth to get every last drop. I was hoping to find the original recipe and wishing it would qualify for my daily dose of omega 3.
Shortly after World War II, 1947 or1948, as I can best remember at the age of eight or nine, my parents decided that I needed "something" -- manifested as Father John's Medicine. The example photos (above) do correspond to what I visually remember. They do NOT (no image could) represent the contents. The viscous bottle contents were a brown-gray that could be "heaped upon" a tablespoon -- definitely too large a dose. The taste was not describable! I do not recall reading any list of ingredients! Such was the lack of openness regarding over-the-counter, proprietary products until FDA regulations changed in 1968! Today, one may still purchase this brand containing only the active ingredient dextromethorphan hydrobromide, a cough supressant. In contrast to yesteryear, anything sold as a medicine MUST have an effective, active ingredient!
My two sisters and brother had to take Father John's when we were kids back in the seventies. Our mother would give us a TABLESPOON of the medicine each time we had to take it. It was absolutely the most disgusting tasting stuff we could ever imagine. It even looked and smelled horrible! Blah! One day, we read the label to find out what was in it that made dosing such a trial. Someone mentioned that molasses was in the original formula and that is correct, it was molasses...along with fish oil and WHALE BLUBBER! It was the whale blubber that gave it that disgusting coagulated texture that we gagged on trying to get the stuff down. My brother, being the youngest, always met with disaster trying to swallow it. He never did get that piece of candy we received after experiencing the horror. XuD
Grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. This was the medicine my mother and aunt gave me when plagued with a cold or nasty cough. Nasty beyond all imagination but it worked. Grew up in the metro Pittsburgh and we had severe winters. No North Face or Gortex boots to protect you from the elements. Only what the 5 and dime store sold.
When we were kids in the 60-70s this stuff was horrible. If you were sick and wanted to stay home from school you had to take it. So many illnesses were cured just by the sight of the bottle.
I remember the product well. The original bottle and original recipe. It was in the late 1940's, taken nearly every day in winter. I loved the stuff.
I was born in 1949, my sisters 1950, 1954, 1960. I well remember taking Father John’s. I know my next two sisters did also, I don’t think my little sister did. We would get a tablespoon before bed. It tasted so good. They must have changed the ingredients later, because it did taste good. I grew up in West Virginia and I wonder if Father John’s was more prevalent in the East?
When we were kids in the 60s this stuff was made with cod liver oil and was horrid. If you were sick and wanted to stay home from school you had to take it- many illnesses were magically cured just by the sight of the bottle. One bottle lived in our fridge for about 10 years. Once you had it once you never wanted to have it again.
My mother gave us Fr. John's every day through winter. She said it had "Sunshine Vitamin D" in it to replace the sun we didn't have all winter. I don't know if that was true, but, we had very few colds. The funniest part of it was that my two sisters hated the taste of it and I begged to have the spoon to lick. I loved the taste.
I too liked the taste!
I had a similar situation. My sister hated it and I wanted seconds. I don't recall having many colds either.
I used to take this everyday. I thought I remembered it being made with molasses? It is a shame you don’t have the original tonic (minus the dextromethorphan) and glass bottle. It was a rite of passage for many of us! You know plastic leaches chemicals into the mix. I ordered a bottle for a nasty cold and pleased to say it is “still good for what ails you!”.
I worked here at a kid in the 60s. The company was owned by the Fayes but was run by Gerry and George Donehue. Gerry was the president and George ran finance. When the Fayes died, Gerry and George inherited the business and the Faye home, a huge mansion off Andover St. The company hired many older people who worked part time. Many people swore by the medicine. A chemist at Umass Lowell tested the formula each week.
My mom gave us this medicine when me and my brothers and sister were little. She kept a bottle of this in the medicine cabinet, This stuff works, now I will be giving it to my grandkids.
My Grandmother made us take this every morning when we visited for summer vacation. Wanted to know if it can still be purchased?
My mom gave us this a kids as a preventive medicine before flu season. I swear to you I have only had the flu once I my life and that was after I moved out off her home. I still take it now and can't help but share its benefits with others when they ask.

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